I received a phone call this week from someone I have known since she was born. She is from here but has lived away for many years. She started the conversation by reminding me that she grew up going to church and then added that she has not gone to church since she left home. She told me that she believes in God and prays. In the past few months, things in her life have gotten pretty rough and she has been praying a lot, but she is not sure she is doing it right, that God is hearing her prayers. She is not confident in God’s presence and does not trust God. She has not gone to church since she left home but she has gone to the doctor who in addition to her anti-depressant medication, put her on anxiety medication and sleeping pills. The doctor did not recommend counseling or any life changes and he certainly did not tell her to go to church. But times are tough and so she called the only Pastor she knows looking for answers, looking for the secrets of faith. She wanted a Jesus prescription.
But Jesus is more difficult to comprehend than he ought to be, or at least, than we think he ought to be. The full expression of God, Word made flesh, the light of God shining. He is the way, the truth and the life and has been around since the beginning but walked the earth as a man who suffered and died. Through Jesus we have new birth and life-giving bread. Through Jesus, our text says, we will never be hungry or thirsty again.
We modern people have come to believe that we can study and then comprehend anything. It is an entitlement we feel we have because we live in a nation with freedom of information and the right to education.
We have the world at our fingertips. We can get information with the click on a computer or smart phone. We are connected to experts in every field.
If something is not right in our lives, we believe we have the power to feel better in a matter of hours or days. We take the pill, search google for the home remedy and call a pastor friend for the Jesus prescription.
This week I googled Jesus and an endless list of links appeared from Wikipedia to biographies to “real life answers to your questions.” I would send my friend a link to that sight if I thought it would help her.
But Jesus is not so easy to understand. How can even the “real life answers to your questions” website explain “the way, the truth and the life?” Or a kingdom that is not of this world. Or bread not from the kitchen of Rose Hall, but from heaven.
Today’s passage is Scene Two of the story. In Scene One, the festival of the Passover was approaching and people were flooding into the area. Jesus was being followed by a large crowd because “they saw the signs he was doing for the sick.” And they wondered, “Who is this man and where is he from?”
Jesus saw the crowd approaching and asked Philip where they could buy bread to feed all these people. Philip said they would need more than 6 month’s wages to feed them. But Andrew pointed out that there was a boy with 5 loaves of barley bread and two fish. So Jesus had the crowd of about 5,000 sit on the grass and
“Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. [And] They filled twelve baskets” with the leftovers.
Jesus fed a hungry crowd and they were impressed. They figured if they followed him they would always have enough to eat, they would literally never go hungry. Maybe the bread and fish were very tasty or maybe the people had not had full bellies in long time or — ever. Most people in the world go their entire lives without ever knowing what a full belly feel likes. One out of seven people in the world will go to bed hungry this very night.
And there were no refrigerators or freezers. They did not have the ability to can tomatoes and green beans. If they had a very wet spring and summer like we have had and their gardens were not plentiful or there was a drought like in California – people went without food.
The crowd enjoyed that full feeling in their bellies and decided to follow Jesus. But somehow just when they decided to follow him, he got away from them – he did it by walking on water but they did not see that. So they hopped in some boats and found him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee.
They said, “Teacher, when did you come here?”
And Jesus answered them, “You are looking for me because you ate your fill of the loaves.” You are looking for me for the wrong reasons. I am not the bread man from Nazareth. I am not a food magician.
You see, the crowd saw the bread as the miracle. They understood the food to be the point. They thought the loaves and fishes were an end rather than a means or sign of God. But Jesus was pointing them beyond that meal, that day, their own needs and desires. Jesus was pointing them toward God.
We are all guilty of that aren’t we? Well, I know, I am. Something really great will happen and I get so caught up in it that I forget to look beyond it – I miss the holy of the experience, I miss God in the person, in the moment, in the experience.
These last weeks I have spent a considerable amount of time asking God, How are we supposed to be church in this time and place? I know that the answer will not be simple and will take some work and some time on my part and on our parts. I am looking for a kingdom that is not of this world.
I have been asking God, who we are supposed to be in this time and place?
And I received an email from my cousin who calls himself an atheist but who reads and talks about God and religion about as much as I do. He sent me a science article that is an analysis of all the data from the recent studies that have come out about religion. The article was very long but in a nutshell it said that the peak of atheism has already occurred and that in the past 3 years, atheists have declined by 2 percent worldwide and that atheist leaders no longer enjoy the popularity they used to. The article said that Christianity is growing quite rapidly worldwide and that even people who do not consider themselves religious, those labeled as “nones” believe in God, consider themselves to be spiritual, and pray at least once a month.
Is it coincidence that my suffering friend who has not been to church since she was a child called the same week my cousin sent me that article, during the same time that I have been asking God who we, Providence Christian Church, are supposed to be in this time and place? Well just in case I might miss the connection because God knows that I am not always paying attention, I received another call.
I got a call from Jerry Graves. I have told you about Jerry before. We got to know Jerry over the years we participated in a prison ministry at Luther Luckett. Jerry came that place as a drug addicted, repeat offender guilty of armed robbery and assault. He came as a very broken person in a very dark place. But as he tells it, Jesus literally and symbolically pulled him out of a deep, dark hole and when the prison chapel doors were open, Jerry was there, praising God with his lovely tenor voice. Well Jerry was released on July 1st after serving almost 34 years at Luther Luckett. He was scared to death. How was someone with his record, without any community or family support, having never used a cellphone or computer, without much money at all going to possibly make it? On July 1st I told him that he could not and would not make it alone, but with God all things are possible. This week he called to say that he has been blessed in ways that he could never have imagined. He is humbled and overwhelmed that people, knowing his background, welcome him to church, offer him a job, and invite him to lunch or dinner. He cannot believe that people have asked him to sing in church – him a sinner – and to even share his story with the high school football team. He cannot believe that someone from the church gave him a cell phone and offered to pay the bill until he got on his feet. He has been to the lake. He has stood in line at Subway overwhelmed that he is supposed to choose the type of bread for his sandwich. “He said, I’ll have what she is having.”
He told me that he said to Jesus, I don’t even know how to praise you because my thanks cannot compare to your blessings.
I have been praying, asking God how we are supposed to be church in this time and place and I get two phone calls and an email.
We are not a religion of convenience and there is no simple way, no prescription for Jesus. Truth will not come through a google search or a Pew Research study.
Christianity is not a religion of convenience. We are not here to give Jesus to consumers in a form that is easy to swallow or that makes them feel good. We cannot give answers to life’s difficult issues in one class, worship service, or phone call. As my husband says quite often, anything worth doing in life is not easy. Things that are worthy take time, take effort, take sacrifice.
Jesus said, “I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Eating communion bread one time will not solve your spiritual problems, but taking communion every week with your brothers and sisters in Christ, committing yourself to this church, to learning more, to struggling together will.
Providence, we have a very important message to share with people who are not religious but are searching and believe in God and pray. We may be the answer to the prayers they lift up to the God they are searching for.